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Capital of culture

The conclusion of the sixth annual edition of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi provides an opportunity to reflect on the UAE's journey in establishing the capital as a prominent fixture on the international cultural landscape

- Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman, Rotana

In a nation renowned for its forward-thinking ethos, characterised by world-class events, state-of-the-art entertainment venues and futuristic architecture, culture remains the cornerstone of the United Arab Emirates. Nowhere is this more evident than in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Despite its meteoric rise over the centuries, the UAE capital has remained firmly rooted in its rich heritage. Even within the strategic initiatives implemented today to attract international audiences, culture remains the focal point of the emirate, thus solidifying its position as a local, regional and international cultural hub.

Anchored in history

The preservation of ancient landmarks in Abu Dhabi underscores the city's steadfast commitment to its heritage. Some of the finest examples of this dedication are found in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered throughout the capital, such as Al Ain Oasis, Bida Bint Saud, the Hili Archaeological Sites and the Hafit Tombs. Various aspects of the nation's intangible heritage, from the art of preparing and serving Arabic coffee to the practice of falconry and the traditional Al-Ayyala performance, continue to thrive today. Furthermore, tales of the past are recounted with passion, while traditions find expression through diverse art forms.

The establishment of new cultural venues perfectly complements the old, offering visitors refined settings to explore history. In 2017, Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to great acclaim, significantly enriching the city's cultural landscape. As the first Louvre museum in the Middle East, it offers a universal narrative of the evolution of art, showcasing a diverse range of cultures. Making the most of its French partnerships, Louvre Abu Dhabi has attracted high-value works to Saadiyat Island, which are on display as part of the museum's permanent collection or through seasonal exhibitions. Notably, the museum's introduction of the Richard Mille Art Prize in 2021 — the UAE’s sole major art award for regional contemporary artists — has strengthened its ties to the local community.

Even before the emergence of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Cultural Foundation was quietly reshaping the city's cultural landscape. Conceived by the late Sheikh Zayed in 1971 and inaugurated in 1981, it served as a dynamic venue for various cultural events, ranging from exhibitions and screenings to book fairs and performances. After a significant renovation, it reopened in 2018 with upgraded facilities, including new galleries, studios, a library and a theatre, while also establishing itself as a hub for performing arts.

In recent years, Manarat Al Saadiyat has also emerged as a dynamic art space, hosting prestigious events aimed at attracting the international art community, such as Abu Dhabi Art, which is held annually alongside a diverse array of pop-up exhibitions throughout the year.

Amidst the modern skyline, the capital's cultural landmarks proudly grace the landscape. From the captivating grandeur of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to Qasr Al Hosn, which is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city's first permanent structure — a watchtower — these remarkable sites offer a captivating glimpse into the emirate's enduring history amidst its ever-evolving landscape.

These cultural avenues are enhanced by a diverse calendar of heritage festivals held throughout the year, each paying homage to an aspect of local culture that thrives today. For instance, the Sheikh Zayed Festival offers a vibrant showcase of the region's rich culture, featuring local arts, crafts, cuisine and traditions, while the Liwa Date Festival celebrates a cherished symbol of Emirati culture.

With such a wealth of heritage, it's no surprise that the emirate serves as the perfect host for the global Culture Summit every year.

Nurturing cultural connections

In March, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) concluded the sixth edition of the Culture Summit Abu Dhabi. Held in partnership with UNESCO, Google, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, Cultural Foundation, Louvre Abu Dhabi, World Cities Culture Forum, Zayed National Museum and others, this global forum brought together thought leaders from diverse fields, such as art, heritage, media, music, museums, public policy and technology, at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Under the theme ‘A Matter of Time’, participants delved into how culture can address contemporary challenges related to time perception. The summit featured keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, artist talks, policy sessions, cultural performances and visual art exhibitions, all aimed at analysing evolving time perceptions and their impact on cultural and creative sectors.

Blazing a trail

Working tirelessly behind the scenes to unite all these endeavours is DCT Abu Dhabi, which continues to propel Abu Dhabi towards becoming a dynamic cultural destination on the global stage. Collaborating closely with UNESCO, DCT Abu Dhabi is dedicated to preserving the capital's tangible and intangible heritage while showcasing this rich tapestry to residents and tourists alike. By narrating the nation's story through archaeological sites, historic buildings, museums, community centres and visual and performing arts programmes, the department fosters engagement and dialogue, deepening understanding of the UAE's cultural legacy.

Augmented by educational initiatives and public engagement programmes, DCT Abu Dhabi also works to ignite artistic and intellectual endeavours that respond to modern challenges and shape the nation's trajectory. Through ongoing excavations and research, the department contributes to broadening knowledge of the region's history. Thanks to these efforts, Abu Dhabi shines as a beacon of cultural enlightenment, showcasing the enduring significance of preserving one's heritage.


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